Race: A Brief History of its Origin, Failure and Alternative


The concept of superior races has to do with concepts of human worth. I don’t see how someone’s worth as a human being is tied to how well their genes allow them to survive and reproduce in a given environment. Judging people by something as arbitrary as which skin color genes they have has no connection to how we should treat them as fellow humans.

We could look at hemoglobin alleles if you want. The allele associated with sickle cell disease also confers resistance to malaria, and this allele is being selected for in regions with endemic malaria. This is a fact. This is survival (or more accurately, fecundity) of the fittest. Natural selection is a real thing. I don’t see how accepting this fact also requires us to reject the idea that we should treat our fellow human beings equally and fairly.

(Harry V Harlan) #24

My name is Harry. I am white, originally for Oklahoma, but have been living in New Orleans since 1971. I was brought up in a lukewarm Presbyterian church and when I went to college I left the church and abandoned God to try to fight my own course in life. Late in 1991 and early '92 the Spirit of God led me to a local Black Baptist Church. There I heard the true Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time: that we are all sinners and bound for a burning hell, unless we do one thing and that is to receive Jesus Christ into our lives as our only Lord and Savior. He died on the cross of Calvary for our sins and was raised from the dead for our salvation and by receiving Him you will have your sins forgiven and go to be with him when we pass from this life.

On March 10, 1992 I received Christ into my life and was born again. Everything changed. I was called to preach the next year and a few years after that my Pastor (Rev. Frank A Davis III) invited me to come a teach as a small Black Christian Bible College. I accepted the invitation and taught a course in Black Theology there for 20 years. I retired from there in 2016, In 2003 I divorced my first wife and married a Sister from Bibleway M. B. C., my home church. So, I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own years from the Black community in New Orleans and I feel that I have been adopted into it and into my wife’s family.

What I want to report is that these people are real people, but they face economic and societal challenges that the White community do not. Most of the Blacks I have met are good people, but some are not so good. The Black church should NOT be integrated with the White church. They have a unique and precious tradition of worship, which I have come to love very much; but, that tradition is fast being lost to the young generation coming up. They don’t want all that shouting and whooping. So, I am afraid that the traditional Black church is going to become a thing of the past and that is really too bad. In my own writings, preaching and teaching I have tried to be aware of the great contribution that Blacks have made to America and to learn as much as I can from them. They have quite a story to tell, one of courage in the midst of grave challenges and a sure Faith in Jesus Christ to lead them to victory in this life and the life to come.

Where does science some in? Almost to a man/woman the Black Baptists that I associate with believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God Himself. It is true and there is nothing you can do to change their mind about that. When it comes to the creation of man, they stick to Gen 1-3. Now, I, on the other hand was raised in a family of scientists and I have not turned my back on them. I follow Biologos with much eagerness that they will be able to piece this thing together. I believe in the scientific theory of evolution. My pastor knows that and we have talked about it. I don’t think much of Darwin and am not surprised to see that he was racist, as were many in his time. One danger I see is that we have made science a religion. Everything has to have been tested in some kind of clinical study to be considered as “true”. And God has been swept out the Back door. We need to find out how to reconcile science and the Bible, but not to just end up worshiping science as the one route to truth.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.

(Jay Johnson) #25

When I first started working in an environment where I, as a white man, was in the minority, I was shocked to find blacks discriminating among themselves based on skin color. It took me a while to figure out why the boys made a fuss about the “yellow bone” girls.

Just for kicks, I googled it to see if it was still current slang, and it turned up in a story from Zimbabwe, where the phrase apparently migrated and caused a stir in 2015. Why it’s hard to be a ‘yellow bone’ says, “(T)he media and public went into a frenzy discussing whether or not the current Miss Zimbabwe – given her dark complexion – was beautiful enough to represent the country.”

Put a group of people together, and they will invent reasons to draw lines between one another and discriminate.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #26

I am glad that we agree on something, however clearly race is not about science, so it is doubtful that a scientific understanding of race will solve the problem. Race is primarily about ethnicity, It is also about social and economic differences.

Thus we can say that African Americans and European Americans are members of the same species, so they are not superior or inferior, but that does not mean they are not different.

If people are different, doesn’t that mean that some are better than others? Logically the answer might be Yes, but as a Christian I say No. What do you think?

@Christy, the question I am trying to raise is this, If evolution is from God, as EC believes then it follows that evolution in the form of Natural Selection should encourage goodness.

If Natural Selection encourages conflict based on the desire to survive as Darwin said, then it does not encourage goodness and therefore it would seem NOT to be from God. This was the point of Darwin and Dawkins, who say that evolution points to the none existence of God.

My position is that evolution in the form of ecological Natural Selection encourages goodness by rewarding working together for the mutual goal of survival and thriving. People point to predation as conflict that justifies survival of the fittest, however ecology clearly indicates predation is just one aspect of the ecology that benefits all involved.

Survival of the fittest is about how people and other creatures relate to others, or ethics and theology. As long as we fail to reject this bad science and worse ethics, we do a disservice to science, ethics, and theology.

(Christy Hemphill) #27

Do any other natural laws or processes have this burden of “encouraging goodness”? Weather, plate tectonics, gravity, combustion, radioactive decay… Everything in the natural word is “from God,” why impose this extra thing on one natural process and not any others?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #28


Welcome to BioLogos.

I agree with you. Integration of the Afro Church with the Euro Church resulting in a bigger White would be a crime. I think that it is a symptom of their arrogance that most Euro Christians think that they are superior theologically to their Afro bothers and sisters.

We are in similar situations, we are whites who have found a home in the Black Church. The main difference is that you found a home in a Black Baptist Church and I in a Black Methodist (A.M.E.) Church.

I have not found hostility to science in my denomination. What I have found is a concern for social justice, a desire for a relationship with Jesus, and a need for education. Emotional content is important, but emotion alone is not enough. We need to combine emotion with something for the mind. We need to develop a ,Black theology which is not as individualistic as in the White Churches.

If you are interested in how we can reconcile science and Christianity, I recommend my book, Darwin’s Myth.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #29

Yes. The role of God in creation is creating order as opposed to chaos.

Genesis 1:31 (NIV2011)
31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

(Harry V Harlan) #31


Thank you for writing me. Let me find a picture of me and my wife and I will include it. When she came home today she said that she didn’t want her picture going out to someone she does not know. So, that will have to wait. I have heard of your book and I will get it. I also have written a book about Black Theology. I never got it copy-written and I just made enough copies at Kinkos each year to provide for my class. It is a history of American Black Theology. It talks a little about the A. M. E. church (see Chapter 7). If you like I will send the electronic version to you. Please send me a better email address so I can send you my book.

Thanks again,



These seem to be two different questions. I can’t run as fast as Usain Bolt, but does that mean I have less worth as a human being? Of course not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing to the physical and genetic differences between humans. Where it goes wrong is using those differences to unfairly justify discrimination.

ALL of us are different from each other at a genetic level (except for identical twins), so it doesn’t make sense to say that one person is worth less as a human for simply having different alleles than another person.

That seems like a different issue, the infamous Problem of Evil that has bounced around philosophical and theological circles since the beginning of philosophy and theology.

It also moves into the territory of the Naturalistic Fallacy, where we determine what is moral by what is natural. Life threatening infections are natural, yet we think preventing and treating these infections is moral. There is absolutely no reason start with “this happens and is natural” and move to “therefore we should encourage these events”.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #33

Hi Ken,

Welcome to the Forum! Not an official welcome, as I’m nobody official, but a warm one nonetheless.

I for one am uncomfortable with the pitch to stop “talking in terms of” race in favor of ethnicity. Race is indeed a social construct, and it is arbitrary—but it needs to be not ignored in a “colorblind” sort of fashion but rather recognized and discussed as the social construct that it is.

Otherwise, we will never be able to find the unity we seek, because we will not have come to terms with the history of race-based oppression that we find in America (and elsewhere), listened, repented, sought reconciliation, etc.

I don’t know the first thing about you, so this may not be you, but a lot of the time when we white guys say things like that we’ve found no theological basis for hostility with regards to race, we want peace, which is good, but many of us fail to recognize and think through the real historical basis for grievances within the black community.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in response — I may well be talking past you, but I wanted to engage and try to draw out your thoughts a bit more.

(Ken Cukrowski) #34

Hello, Mr. Wolfe:

I appreciate your hospitable welcome to the forum and your question.

I share your concern–that any attempt to ignore wrongs committed in the name of race would be a wrong turn and not helpful to healing and reconciliation.

My comment/question comes from three places. First, as a professor at a seminary, I look for ways that my faith might inform my understanding (hence the moves with Genesis and Galatians), even though I recognize that others may not share my same presuppositions.

Second, I’m probably influenced by a recent book I read, “Disunity in Christ” (2013) by Christena Cleveland, who is a social psychologist who works in the area of multicultural issues. An African-American woman, she argues that our tribalism divides more than it unites us: “And hopefully, this book has also helped you understand that the primary problem is that our identities our too small. We tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ” (177).

Third, I’m very interested in unity and ways to move our culture together rather than apart. And I wonder whether more capacious visions, such as that depicted in MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which both names the wrongs of the past and present, and appeals to a common humanity (and country), have a better chance of bringing folks together.

I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I’d like to be in conversation with others so-minded who are looking for ways to promote a common good for us all. I hope that my questions are heard as invitations to dialogue and opportunities for mutual learning and understanding.

Thank you!

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #35

Thanks for clarifying. It appears I did indeed have the wrong idea from what you wrote! Christena Cleveland is fantastic. I’ve only read a few blog posts of hers (some years ago, at that), but I loved what I read. Sounds like I need to take a look at her 2013 book and understand her approach better.

Thanks for the tip!

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #36

@Cukrowski wrote:

Could we say that race, much like gender (vs. sex), is a social construct, and it would be much more helpful to talk in terms of ethnicity? That is, to divide people based on skin color (for instance) is as arbitrary as categorizing humans based on height or hair color?


Let me make one thing very clear. “Race” is not the problem. Racism is the problem. Race put the problem on others. Racism puts the problem on us, where it belongs.

Gender is not a purely social construct. Men and women are different. That does lead to different roles in society, which are a social construct. “Race” is better understood as ethnicity, but that does not negate the situation where “Caucasians” originate in Europe, “Negroes” originate in Africa, “Orientals” originate in the Far East, and “Native Americans” who originate in the Western hemisphere. Others do not fit into any of these racial/ethnic groups, such as the Indians from India and Semitic peoples.

The color of our skin does indicate who we are in terms of ethnicity, like it or not. The fact is that Jesus taught us not to discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity Period.

Please do not think that African Americans are embarrassed about their “race” or ethnicity. Yes, ethnicity is largely a social construct that can be changed. We tend to idealize our ethnicity and stereotype the ethnicity of others. The goal we need to pursue is to breakdown stereotypes and evaluate people are persons and not as a member of a group, just and Jesus taught us and demonstrated to us as He encountered persons who were not Jewish.

(Ken Cukrowski) #37

I saw the movie “Black Panther” last night. I appreciate the message of “brothers and sisters” and “one single tribe” at the end of the film:

“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #38

Jesus taught that lesson long ago, yet we allow the foolish to run our nation and burn what bridges that exist.

When are we going to learn what is important?

(Jay Johnson) #39

And here is a sad story that I just ran across in the NY Times: A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches

A representative quote from the story: “Everything we tried is not working,” said Michael Emerson, the author of “Divided by Faith,” a seminal work on race relations within the evangelical church. “The (2016) election itself was the single most harmful event to the whole movement of reconciliation in at least the past 30 years,” he said. “It’s about to completely break apart.”

(Christy Hemphill) #40

I read that article last night. But I was left wondering if it was really about race, not just a comment on the divisive political climate. I never felt comfortable in evangelical churches in Texas either, and the one I went to had a significant Latino population and some blacks. But it seemed like everyone was socially conservative. My church in Chicago is less racially diverse, but far more politically diverse, and far more hospitable to people with more progressive/liberal political leanings. White evangelical does not equal die hard Republican in all parts of the country.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #41

I read it last night, too, and forwarded it to the one stalwart black member of our white-majority, religious-right-leaning church, who is a friend of ours and someone we pray with regularly. She admitted it struck a chord.

But (in answer to your comment here) can you really divide race and politics in 2018? As the article makes clear, these things were always sort of not far beneath the surface, but the Trump phenomenon has made it all quite explicit and clear-cut.

(Jay Johnson) #42

True, but we are all painted with that same brush in the eyes of outsiders. “Evangelical” is rapidly taking on the same negative connotation as “Fundamentalist.” I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new label emerge in the next decade.

(Christy Hemphill) #43

In certain parts of the country, maybe. My church draws from political districts where the Republicans don’t even bother to run candidates. Most of the people grew up blue collar and Catholic. The Democratic primaries are the elections and labor unions are super influential.

I was ready to never identify as evangelical again after the election, but Mark Galli talked me down from the ledge. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/november-web-only/should-evangelicals-part-ways.html

But I have noticed even CT has been slowly backing away from the word lately. Scot McKnight advises we all just walk away. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/10/16/burying-word-evangelical/ In terms of baggage, it’s a sad day when I feel more comfortable calling myself a Baptist than an Evangelical.